A heroic collaboration

EgoPo Classic Theater, Papermoon Puppet Theatre, and Kalanari Theatre Movement present Ramayana

3 minute read
Washed with red light, puppeteers work a giant face and hands, closing in on a small group of frightened people at center.
This large-scale co-production of ‘Ramayana’ incorporates striking movement and puppetry. (Photo by Anna Siegel.)

Ramayana, an ambitious collaboration between Philly’s EgoPo Classic Theater and two companies based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is a testament to artistic partnership and cultural exchange. This co-production of EgoPo, Papermoon Puppet Theatre, and Kalanari Theatre Movement (developed over 29 years across two continents) features an ensemble of 18 dancers, puppeteers, actors, and musicians: a true mix of performance traditions for a hero’s epic journey.

For a show almost three decades in the making, the run is short: performances are happening June 12 through 16, 2024, under a large tent in the Navy Yard (lot 624). All attendees are invited 90 minutes before each showtime for Rama’s Fest, a festival of Southeast Asian vendors and performances (curated by Sinta Penyami Storms). It’s BYO blankets and chairs and it’s free to attend (no reservations needed), with premium paid packages available.

The Ramayana from poem to stage

The Ramayana, an epic poem of India with many versions (ranging from the 7th century BCE to the 3rd century CE) tells the story of Rama (Gusbang Sada) as he experiences 14 years with his wife Sinta (Kinanti Sekar Rahina) and brother Lakshama (M. Dinu Imansyah) in exile and defeats the demon god Ravana (Ross Beschler). True to the epic form of storytelling, this production is full of spectacle—characters are bold and broad, stage pictures are fantastical and intricate, and moments of theatrical wonder are prioritized.

Also true to the epic form, the play comprises consistently strong moments connected by the quest of our hero, whether it’s a love scene, a violent battle, or a humorous exploration of monkeys. Future iterations could benefit from some condensing and editing, especially as the play reaches its conclusion (pushing the three-hour mark). But to be fair, condensing a 24,000-line poem into a cohesive play is quite the achievement.

Delightfully varied and surprising

Performances are strong across the board and delightfully varied. Comedic turns by Beschler, K. O'Rourke, and Davey Strattan White are met with equal virtuosity by the physicality of Agus Margiyanto, Mugiyono Kasido, and Retno Sulistyorini. Damien J. Wallace ably sets the tone of the piece and narrates the story while puppeteers from Papermoon bring overwhelmingly impressive puppets to life.

The unit set by Dirk Durossette features delightful surprises as the show develops. Light designer Tim Martin and sound designer Chris Sannino turn a large tent in the Navy Yard into a legitimate theatrical space. The lighting design is limited by the number of lights the tent can support and the effects of the sun. Composer J “Mo'ong” Santoso Pribadi’s music is a standout throughout.

Powerful cross-cultural meetings

Co-directors Lane Savadove, Maria Tri Sulistyani, and Ibed S. Yuga clearly worked hard to turn their three disparate companies and aesthetics into a cohesive whole. A diverse ensemble of artists work seamlessly to tell the story. While the bulk, but not all, of the play is delivered in English, the production does a remarkable job of not othering or marginalizing actors in non-English-speaking roles.

The presentation of such a work could be read as cultural appropriation, or pleasant (but empty) multiculturalism, but this is clearly a deep-rooted collaboration, aided and reflected by the surrounding festival. The artists’ commitment to authenticity, and (in the directors’ words) “cross-cultural meetings” proves to be deeply powerful.

Performances will be surrounded by Rama’s Fest, a week-long celebration of Indonesian food and culture. A $50 donation includes a reserved premium seat to Ramayana. A $100 donation includes a VIP seat with an Indonesian picnic meal provided by Pecel Ndeso.

General admission lawn space is free on the day of performances and not available for reservation. Guests are highly encouraged to bring blankets, ground covering, and a cushion for seating. There is limited space for lawn chairs within the tent. Audience capacity is 199.

What, When, Where

Ramayana. By EgoPo Classic Theater, Papermoon Puppet Theatre, and Kalanari Theatre Movement; directed by Lane Savadove, Maria Tri Sulistyani, and Ibed S. Yuga. Free; paid VIP packages available ($50-$100). Through June 16, 2024, at the Navy Yard, 5000 S 11th Street, Philadelphia. (267) 273-1414 or egopo.org.

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